Common Myths About Eating Disorders

Over 50 percent of the population know someone or have been personally affected by eating disorders. Unfortunately, we live in a society where there is a strong emphasis on a picturesque physical appearance that causes our children to “diet” as early as age 10. In the last post, Dr. Allison Chase discussed the unrealistic expectations that social media places on our teens, mostly in the form of looks. While media can certainly impact a person’s body image, eating disorders are the result of biological, genetic, and psychological foundations. Eating disorders are quite prevalent and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Yet, there are still plenty of misconceptions that surround the disorder. Unfortunately these myths lead to a stigma that shy people away from being treated. It’s important for us to debunk these myths and continue to provide education and awareness about disordered eating. Myth #1: Eating Disorders Only Affect White Women Eating disorders do not discriminate. While they are more common in women than men, they affect both genders and all races across all socioeconomic statuses. Over the last couple years, we have seen an increasing amount of younger boys affected with eating disorders. Myth #2: Eating Disorders Are a Lifestyle Choice People do not choose to have an eating disorder. In most cases, eating disorders begin as a coping mechanism or way to gain control of an aspect of one’s life and in fact turn into a very serious, life-threatening illness. They are a product of complex underlying issues with psychiatric symptoms. The choice at hand is whether or not to accept treatment, which is an intimidating and difficult process. Myth #3: You Must Be Underweight to Have an Eating Disorder You can very well be a normal weight or overweight and still suffer from an eating disorder. It’s not solely about weight, but rather about having an unhealthy body image perception. This comes in all shapes and sizes. The media focuses much on emaciated looking individuals, but bulimia, binge eating, and other disordered eating habits occur within those that are not underweight. You simply cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Myth #4: Eating Disorders Are the Family’s Fault Parents are often blamed when their child has an eating disorder; however, research shows that families affected by eating disorders are quite diverse. While parents and dysfunctional family dynamics are not the cause of an eating disorder, they are crucial to the recovery. Myth #5: People Just Need to Eat to Get Better Eating disorders have complex causes and simply eating food will not resolve the issues. While eating is essential to healthy weight and recovery, therapy is often a vital component of the recovery process. For more information regarding eating disorders and treatment, visit National Eating Disorders Association.

*Dr. Allison Chase is a Licensed Psychologist in private practice in Austin, Texas. She works with children, adolescents, young adults and families specializing in mental health issues, eating disorders, parental training and education, and family or team-based therapy. 

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